Warriors teach Celtics lesson on sustainability

Published June 8, 2022, 7:00 AMPolo Bustamante

Golden State leaned on their tried and tested formula led by Steph Curry and Draymond Green to win Game 2.

"They're good shooters, but they combined for 15-for-23 from those guys. We'll be fine,” Draymond Green said with a shrug during Game 1’s post-game press conference.

In a nutshell, that was his assessment not only of Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Derrick White’s shooting, but also of the overall performance of the Golden State Warriors in that game. 

He was right. 

In Game 2, the three combined for 16 points on 2-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc. White did most of the damage, actually. Horford and Smart, two key players for the Boston Celtics, managed only four points on 2-for-10 shooting from the field. This wasn’t just a return to the mean for these three. It’s the result of a concerted effort by Golden State to defend the Celtics better from start to finish.

In Game 1, the Warriors took a calculated risk by focusing their defense on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Because of that, Horford, Smart, and White got good looks and converted big baskets late to steal the game. Even if the Celtics jumped out to an early lead in Game 2, this didn’t feel like an extension of Game 1. The energy of the Warriors was evidently different from the get-go.

“Yeah, I thought everybody was more engaged. It was pretty obvious, just our level of force and physicality was ramped up quite a bit, and it had to be,” Steve Kerr explained about the difference between Game 1 and Game 2 for his team.

Golden State worked harder on defense in this game. They rotated like crazy just to be able to get a hand up on Boston’s shooters. The Warriors were also more physical defensively, taking away the airspace that was available in the paint. There was equal defensive focus given to all five Celtics that were on the floor.

“So for us to come out in the first quarter with the level of intensity and focus, obviously Jaylen and Jayson, what they do in the ball in their hand, it's a tough cover. It's more obvious what you need to do on those guys,” Steph Curry shared about their gameplan. “But then certain possessions, we took -- kept a body on Al. Tried to force Marcus into a crowd. I think that carried over to the rest of the game.”

On offense, Curry wasn’t trying to take over the game immediately like he did in Game 1 when he scored 21 points in the first period. He was more patient, analyzing what the defense was doing and taking the openings he was given. He attacked hard closeouts to get into the paint and dump it off to open teammates. He only finished with four assists, but he was able to set the tone offensively for his team.

For most of the first half, the Warriors looked like a more experienced boxer that was warding off a younger opponent, biding his time before going for the knockout blow. The haymaker came, predictably, in the third quarter.

The Warriors erupted for 35 points in the third period, led by 14 points from Curry during that stretch. He dropped three triples, including back-to-back hits to give his team a 17-point lead. With Klay Thompson misfiring (4/19 for the game), Jordan Poole stepped up once again to back Curry up. He delivered the knockout punch when he closed the quarter with two long-range, high-swagger shots to put Golden State up by 23 points.

“I felt like it was coming the entire game. I felt like we were playing really good basketball and we just didn't pull away. If you stay the course and continue to play basketball, it will eventually go your way,” Green said about the pivotal third-quarter run.

Instead of letting up, the Warriors put their foot on the gas pedal to start the final period. They continued their run and scored the first six points to go up by 29 points. It was game over at that point.

Golden State showed just how good they can be if they sustain their effort on both ends for all 48 minutes of the game. They can’t play 40 or 41 good minutes and then ease up. Not against a team as dangerous as Boston.

“What Boston did in the second half, you know, fourth quarter the other night, we knew we had to come with a much better focus and sense of aggression, and I thought that started right from the beginning,” Kerr explained. 

The Warriors also proved in Game 2 that their winning formula is still sustainable after all these years. It starts with a sprinkle of Curry Magic, a whole lot of lockdown defense led by Green, and that predictable yet unstoppable third quarter barrage. 

“Just like I said, Steph Curry sets the tone on the offensive side of the ball, it's my job to set the tone from the defensive side of ball,” Green shared.

That formula gets put to the test in Boston where the Warriors need to get a crucial road win to take back home court advantage.